I was reading a facsimile copy of the 1852 edition of George Jones’ ”Battle of Waterloo With Those of Ligny and Quatre Bras Described by Eye-Witness and by the Series of Official Accounts Published by Authority” recently, and my eye came across this on page 9 In the chapter on Circumstantial Details:
”There is a mistaken idea in this country, that the French, that even Napoleon Buonaparte himself, was popular in Belgium. This was a moment when Hypocrisy itself would have found it impossible to dissemble; and the dismay which reigned upon every face, and the terror which filled every town and village, when it was believed that the French were victorious - the execrations with which their very names were uttered - the curses, ‘not loud but deep’ half repressed by fear, betrayed how rooted and sincere was the hatred from the tyranny from which they had so recently escaped. There may be miscreants of of all ranks in Belgium, as in other countries, whom the hope of plunder and the temptations of ambition will bring over to any party, where these can be obtained; but by the great body of the nation, from the highest to the lowest, the French government is abhorred, and Napoleon himself is regarded with detestation, the strength of which we can firm no idea of in this country. Their very infants are taught to lisp these sentiments, and to regard him as a monster”
This has set me thinking about the following points (in no particulate order):
1. The xenophobia of British accounts and the fear of betrayals that appears not to have materialised. Given the shared language of the part of Belgium they found themselves in and the service records of some of the Belgian officers it doesn’t seem to need much stoking.
2. Although some Belgian individuals rallied to Napoleon, those Belgians who entered the new country’s service overwhelmingly did so loyally. Indeed the story of defections is one of French officers deserting Napoleon. Not the other way around.
3. How genuine was Napoleon’s expectations of the Belgians? Was it just a Pollyanna style symptom of his narcissism or perhaps propaganda intended not so much for the Belgians but his own men?
4. Many are now reassessing the roles played within the Allied victory, if we are to take the above quote at face value should we not rehabilitate the civilian population also?
In mulling these over, I’d very welcome inputs from forumites, of whatever sympathies, and indeed any other points or evidence germane to the subject of Belgian attitudes in this period.
As ever, by deepest thanks to anyone who contributes.